SAN DIEGO -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of bills Thursday aimed at helping veterans, including legislation that could provide funds to expand affordable housing to combat homelessness among former service members.
California is home to a quarter of the country's homeless veterans.
Nationally, veteran homelessness remains stubbornly high, and a wave of new vets are rejoining civilian life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 60,000 veterans were homeless in January 2012, according to a national census.
And locally, a "point-in-time" census, conducted over a two-day period in January, found 718 veterans in Santa Clara County without permanent shelter -- nearly 10 percent of the total homeless population. In San Jose alone, 484 homeless veterans were counted.
"Today we're doing something really good," Brown said of the Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act before signing the legislation during a ceremony at the San Diego Veterans Village, which provides transitional housing and other programs to homeless veterans.
The legislation will ask voters in June to approve allowing the state to use $600 million of existing veterans' housing bond funds for multifamily, transitional housing.
Phil Landis, a Vietnam veteran who started the Veterans Village, said thousands of new dorms could be built for homeless veterans with the money.
The bill was among a dozen signed by Brown on Thursday that supporters say will help veterans. They include one bill that would authorize the governing board of a county to grant financial assistance, relief and support to a disabled veteran and another that adds "military and veteran status" to the list of categories protected from discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Brown's actions come a day after Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who promised to end veteran homelessness by 2015, spelled out some of the dire consequences of a longer-term government shutdown in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Shinseki said 315,000 veterans and 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents will see pension payments stopped, and about 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability compensation next month if the partial government shutdown continues into late October.
Short term, there's been a delay in processing claims by an average of about 1,400 per day since the shutdown began Oct. 1.
The House has passed legislation that would provide veterans disability, pension and other benefits if the shutdown is prolonged. But the White House has urged lawmakers not to take a piecemeal approach to continuing government services.
Earlier this year, as part of the federal initiative to end veteran homelessness by 2015, Bay Area housing authorities learned of new funding to help 280 chronically homeless veterans find permanent homes. More than $3 million in federal funds were allocated for rental-housing vouchers to assist vets through six local housing agencies. It's a slice of the $60 million nationally that could put roofs over the heads of as many as 9,000 homeless veterans.